Published Aug 27, 2009In case you're wondering, it's been seven years since we last heard from Cornershop. Back in 2002, boy bands were still selling, rock'n'roll was in the midst of a major revival and American Idol reared its (ugly) head for the first time. That year, Cornershop released a well-received album called Handcream For A Generation, and that was the last we heard from them, barring a couple of brilliant UK-only singles a few years later.
They've finally returned with their fifth album, Judy Sucks A Lemon For Breakfast, as if no time has passed. Picking right up where Handcream left off, Cornershop continue to challenge the confines of pop music by mixing up their rock'n'roll with disco, psychedelia, gospel, '60s pop, soul, Bhangra and boogie. And that's just the first song.
Core members Tjinder Singh and Ben Ayres took some time out of their newly hectic schedules to tell Exclaim! about their comeback, what they learned from the success of "Brimful of Asha" and how long it will be before another Cornershop album.
How does it feel to be back at it, promoting a record and preparing to play gigs?
Singh: Feels great. There were certainly many times when we thought it wouldn't happen; we had to rise to the challenge of it. Musically, we knew we had some great stuff under our turban and that made it the easier to get results, in the end. The best thing has been the complete and wholehearted support we have had on dropping the album. You can't pay for that kind of support.
Why the long stretch between Handcream For A Genearation and Judy Sucks A Lemon For Breakfast? What kept you guys away from making a record?
The long stretch has been taken up bringing up my two boys; they've helped bring me up too. Baking chapattis, living in France for two years, helping our percussionist overcome his abduction by aliens; he was away for two weeks but the process weakened him for three years. Drinking lots of tea, overcoming my own abductions and working damn hard - the hardest working wog in the industry is me. Work on music has never stopped, nor has the record collecting. We set up Sassy P Recordings three years ago and have worked with the likes of Quincy Jones, Jeffrey Lewis, Soko, the Rainbow-Coloured Green Beans and up and coming Portugal The Man.
Will we have to wait another seven years for the next album?
Nope, it's already in the can and comes freshly factory packed for your satisfaction - next year sometime.
Were there moments when you thought Cornershop were finished?
Cornershop are always in a state of finished, have been left many times with their water system turned off. The industry is loathe to let a band that say what it likes - basically they hate artists, will pretend anything not, and I feel for their protests, but will as Ginsberg said do nothing but sit on the craftsmen's loom, and even bodies that are supposed to represent artists have fed them to the lions. Other than that we have never felt we were finished, only furnished.
How did this album come together?
In a lion's stride. We see it as the missing link between When I Was Born For The 7th Time and Handcream For A Generation, though normally we are straight to the point. Each track we do is different in approach for us, whether starting with lyrics or a drumbeat, or sitar line. So, given that we knew there would be variety, that's enough for us to go on. The only thing we didn't want for this album was to have well-known musicians guesting on it, to put emphasis on the people whom were about to be sold down the river themselves.
When I first heard you sing the words, "Who Fingered Rock and Roll?" I was a bit taken aback. Can you explain the answer to that song?
With past lines like "as we enter the centre of the century's clit" to describe the passing of the last decade, there is no need to be taken aback. The song is in praise of rock'n'roll, not so much the people whom are ruining it.
You guys released the Topknot and Wop the Groove singles in 2004 and 2005, respectively. Was the intention to make an album out of those singles?
We were very happy with both tracks. Geoff Travis from Rough Trade Records said Wop The Groove was one of the best releases he had ever had the good fortune to put out, and Topknot made many an English group jealous. The next album does feature more tracks with Bubbley Kaur, the singer on Topknot. Good question.
I've always been fascinated by Cornershop because your music is always so melodic and catchy but the band are far from simple. I like what the Scotsman wrote about you, that the new album is "a conventional release from a defiantly unconventional band." Do you see yourselves as a musical paradox of sorts?
Not really, we like to retire to the pavilion early for sandwiches like the next first 11, and work very hard for the money. The Commonwealth may not be what it used to be but we are.
You're still remembered for "Brimful of Asha." What was it like going through that experience? Before that, you guys were quite political. Was that kind of commercial success at all appealing to you?
Well, luckily I stated we work hard, and to have a song about vinyl, which we still collect on an hourly basis, is the top of the pops for us. But we have never let up on the politics, as we see politics as merely opinion on what's going on around you - a bit like Twitter, if you will. "Brimful Of Asha" talked about the Narmada dam, with the line about "the promotion of the simple life and the damns they're building," a campaign Arundutti Roy went on to champion. And "Roll Off Characteristics" talks about war being "nothing but technical plip plop," about campaigns of which there is no end in sight.
That song kicked Celine Dion off the top of the charts in the UK. That must have felt nice.
No, not really, we dig that song deeper as the years go by.
The band have always been considered just Tijinder and Ben. Who makes up Cornershop these days?
Tjinder writes and produces the songs, Benedict is his captain at arms and the rest come in from time to time, actually all the rest of the time, except when in a pavilion.
Did you feel you had anything to prove this time out having been gone for so long?
We always have something to prove or we would stop completely, but when groups like Dexys Midnight Runners have done what they did, we can only try.
What made you decide to release the album on your own? And what are the difficulties in today's age taking that on?
We have been with labels small and large, and generally they are the same. In both cases we have gladly done so much work ourselves that we wanted to do it all ourselves. We get friends to do artwork, as ever, and have been running a record label called Meccico since 1994. A few tweaks and we were set. Labels are constantly changing, which partly contributes to why making and putting music out so exciting. The digital age has put musicians onto the nitty gritty of the situation - that is, who the copyright holder is.
Where do you think Cornershop fit in 2009?
Luckily, we have been very lucky to have made a catalogue of music that is very different from one track to the next, and therefore haven't stuck to any scene, giving us longevity that reaches far beyond what we thought it would be. Young people are certainly getting into what we have done in the past, as well as the new material, or because of it, and we cannot believe our luck. This album's reviews have been knockout, and nobody could have predicted that either.
Can you tell me about the documentary you made?
The documentary Tjinder made was about how everyday musicians in London made music. It was filmed in 2003 and the changes that were happening to the industry were documented before they finally disappeared. Whether that was vinyl manufacturing or the late, great John Peel or hardcopy music magazine print - even the now defunct Routemaster buses were captured. It's a trip.
Ben, you've been working for Rough Trade for quite a few years now. What is it like looking at music from the perspective of a label as opposed to an artist? Have you taken what you've learned to help the new Cornershop album?
Ben: To be honest, I don't know that I ever look at music from the viewpoint of a label alone. I think I always have the artist's point of view and welfare at the very front of my mind all the time. I'm one of those people that doesn't think a record label's chief concern should be to make money, and certainly not at the cost of an artist's welfare, health or sanity! It's important to understand as much as possible about the whole process and the costs and options involved. A common mistake is for a band to accept a large advance or promotional spend, which they then spend years paying back. I think the whole procedure should be transparent and the artist privy to as many decisions as possible in order to decide the best route for them, what's most comfortable for them. It's this side of things that blows apart most promising bands and can stifle the creative side. Before working at Rough Trade, both myself and Tjinder ran our own small label, Meccico Records, we released records by a garage band called the Toes, a Toronto, ON band called the Barcelona Pavillion and Rachel Lipson, an anti-folk singer and friend of Jeffrey Lewis's from New York. So we've experience on both sides. Rough Trade is a great example when I think of a label trying to do things in an unusual way to support the artists they work with anyway they can, especially to encourage creativity. And, yes, it's definitely helped me learn more about all aspects of a record's release and campaign having spent a few years working at Rough Trade. I should add I grew up loving Rough Trade as a label and many of its artists. The reason I ended up working, or helping out, as I like to call it, at Rough Trade is that I heard Jeffrey Lewis's first single on the radio and loved it so much I rang an old friend, Colin Wallace, who I knew was at Rough Trade and I asked him if Jeffrey Lewis could play some gigs with us in 2002. Following that, knowing Cornershop were going to be quiet on the gig front for a time, I asked Colin if they needed any help. Geoff Travis called me in and said he'd find me something to do to help. There began my trip into press/publicity work, without any previous experience as such. I've loved working with some fantastic bands so far: the Hidden Cameras, the Fiery Furnaces, Jenny Lewis, Jeffrey Lewis, the Detroit Cobras, the Libertines, Scritti Politti, Jarvis Cocker, Sufjan Stevens, Arcade Fire, Julian Casablancas, Basia Bulat, 1990s, Adam Green, the list is endless.
Finally, are there any plans to release this album worldwide?
Tjinder: Plans for the album going worldwide are ongoing but for now you can order the special double album vinyl with poster design, or CD with poster design or indeed, digitally from the band's shop at cornershop.com.